Zero Client – What Is It and What Are the Benefits? (+Top 5 Picks)
Author: Mathieu Ferland
The term ‘zero client’ was first conceived to differentiate thin client devices that lacked an operating system and central configuration file by Dell Wyse. Over time, they have become an important part of the virtualization and computing world.
What Is a Zero Client?
Generally speaking, zero clients are ultra-thin computing devices that have no local operating systems, hard drives, or moving parts. Rather, they mainly consist of dedicated hardware decodes, and digital processors for HDX, PCoIP, or RemoteFX VDI protocols.
Overall, zero clients (sometimes referred to as ultrathin clients) are relatively easy to set up and use as they require no configuration or updates. In contrast to thin clients that have an OS, zero clients have firmware installed that helps connect users to a remote machine.
How Do Zero Client Work?
Fundamentally, the technology that underpins zero clients devices is based on the architecture of virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs). In a VDI, infrastructure and data management are centralized in a data center.
So, in practice, when executing a virtual desktop environment, each user has a device or ‘client’ to display their desktop (stored in a data center). In this context, a zero client is a type of client but with no local storage, operating system, or CPU.
Instead, zero clients basically consist of:
- A power supply
- HDMI port
- DVI port
- Display port
- USB port
- Ethernet port
- Processor with dedicated firmware.
This is basically a chip that executes PCoIP decoding at a hardware level to render pixels onto the user’s display.
So, in essence, each user is equipped with a zero client device, a display monitor, and a human interface device (HID) like a keyboard and a mouse.
Furthermore, because of the absence of moving parts/components, zero clients typically use a fraction of the energy consumed by conventional PCs. Additionally, ultrathin or zero clients come in different forms like desktop devices, laptops, or integrated monitors that are relatively easy to deploy, manage and configure.
Overall, ultrathin or zero clients are usually small and simple input/output redirection devices with a standard set of features to support most users. They support access to various desktop types, terminal services, VDIs, dedicated rackmounts, and blade workstations.
Generally, zero clients are arguably the most secure devices in virtualization. This is because they have no operating systems that one can infect, and data isn’t stored on the endpoints. As such, users can’t install unauthorized or malicious software, mistakenly delete system files, or steal intellectual property.
What Are Thin Clients?
Often confused with zero clients, thin clients are lightweight, low-cost devices built as remote computer terminals with fewer components than traditional PCs.
In practice, thin clients are computers without a hard drive. Rather, thin clients derive support from a dedicated server to execute IT functions with built-in security. This means that their UI elements are typically rendered on the client end.
What Is the Difference Between a Zero Client and a Thin Client?
Zero clients (ultrathin clients) and thin clients are both endpoint devices with high performance that are similar in purpose. As such, they play a considerable role in the management of today’s centralized computing systems.
However, though zero clients and thin clients have greatly contributed towards delivering cutting-edge functionality, connectivity, and security to organizations, they differ in structure and operation.
|Zero Clients||Thin Clients|
|Do not have removable storage||Have flash memory and local storage.|
|Have no operating system||Constitute an operating system.|
|Use firmware||Do not use firmware|
|Typically have 512 MB memory.||Possess memory of more than 1 GB.|
|Are more straightforward to configure and manage than thin clients.||Take a longer time to configure and deploy.|
|In terms of remote protocol support, zero clients typically leverage PColP/AWS.||Thin clients employ Teradici PColP for remote protocol support.|
|Are cheaper and slimmer than thin clients.||Are more expensive and thicker in size than zero clients.|
|Require fewer updates than thin clients||Despite having minor and less frequent software updates, thin clients still require more updates than ultrathin clients.|
Benefits of Using a Zero Client
Here is a basic summary of the benefits:
- Zero clients are easy to deploy and configure.
- They have a longer equipment life span. As a result, the longer life cycle of the equipment installed can translate into cost savings.
- Since there is no resident OS to update and support, there are no issues to worry about with regards to OS compatibility.
- Zero clientsoffer improved security, system resilience, and reliability.
- There is no point of failure with hard drives or fans.
- They offer lower cooling and power costs, and reduced space consumption.
- They offer savings in I.T staff time while supporting, migrating, upgrading, and patching users.
- They deliver a rich multimedia experience to users.
- Zero clients give every user the same rich virtual desktop experience.
The Different Types of Zero Clients.
With zero clients, desktop applications are centrally provisioned and managed from a remote server via an onboard processor designed to handle one specific protocol. For example:
- VMware PCoIP/ Blast Extreme
- Citrix HDX
- Teradici PCoIP
- Microsoft RDP
- Parallels RAS.
The most widely used zero clients are PCoIP Zero Clients. In practice, PCoIP zero clients are the simplest and most secure clients for office users. Most of them employ a highly integrated, purpose-built Teradici Tera processor to replace components of a traditional PC client. For example, the general-purpose CPU, local data storage, and application OS.
Examples of popular products include:
In summary, thin and zero clients deliver the most significant long-term cost savings for tech-driven organizations. All while delivering an effective platform for addressing operational challenges around support, deployment, migration, configuration, migrations, security, and scalability.
Furthermore, zero clients also offer cost savings as company initiatives expand. This is because IT teams can easily onboard new users more efficiently and effectively. What’s more,zero clients require less power to run and are basically plug and play. Therefore, they can be up and running in minutes. Overall, these characteristics make them more reliable, secure, and easier to manage than other similar virtualization solutions.
For organizations seeking to build remote work solutions to address the challenges posed by new work-from-home policies, these devices are the way to go. This is because they are essentially secure endpoints that offer employees the ability to work from anywhere.
When considering a thin vs zero client solution, here are a few things to look out for:
- If it delivers high-quality end-user experience
- If it has a low cost of operation
- Security and compliance
- Rapid deployment
- Flexibility with use cases for end-users
V2 Cloud Thin Client
For example, V2 Cloud’s Raspberry Pi Thin Client provides cloud-delivered virtual desktops to equip corporate workforces with enterprise-grade virtual workspaces.
This solution essentially avails access to the benefits of a Desktop-as-a-Service solution but without any technical compromises while also reducing spending on employee devices and simplifying device management as desktop computers are replaced with the device. It comes especially handy for companies with dispersed employees, as shipping computers can be a logistical nightmare.